The 10 Things I Realized While Raising a Child Addicted to Drugs
When you’re pregnant, you kinda have a vision of what kind of parent you think you'll be. I remember thinking that I would be a very cool, open mom who wouldn’t let too much get to me. I’d be the mom that other mom’s kids could talk to. I have to say, that for the most part I’ve been pretty damn relaxed in this mom-gig.
But NOTHING could have ever prepared me to raise a son addicted to drugs.
I don’t talk about this too often because I’ve always felt that it was Brandon's story to tell, not mine. But the truth is that while his addiction is his story, being a mom to someone addicted to drugs is actually my story. And I know that if I share it could really help another mama out.
My beautiful son, Brandon.
Brandon was always a friendly, happy kid who didn’t fit into the “school mold”. He wasn’t particularly sporty or willing to apply himself academically. He struggled to pay attention in class but he was a kid with friends. He was also a kid with a biological dad who let him down a lot. And even though he had a rockstar of a step-dad from the time that he was 6, it just wasn’t the same. Seriously- as much as I feel that I deserve a prize for enduring Brandon’s teen years, my husband Eric deserves a lifetime achievement award! It’s one thing to struggle through because you actually birthed a person, but to do it out of a sense of love and responsibility? That’s insane.
This brings me to the first realization as a mom with a drug-addicted child:
You’ll always love them, but there will be times that you actually HATE them.
Brandon started skipping school in grade 9. He was so musically talented that he was accepted into the regional music program in high school. He had so much promise as a guitar player! There was a significant commitment on us as his parents: we had to drive him to band before school 3 mornings a week and that was a challenge because we had 3 kids in 3 different schools and a toddler, but we figured it out. It wasn’t always pretty, but we managed to get him there.
Imagine my shock and surprise when the music teacher called to find out why he wasn’t going to band practice! Turns out, after all of our hard work to get him there, he was walking across the road to smoke weed with his “buddies” behind a coffee shop.
I HATED him for that, even though I still loved him.
My second realization as a mom with a drug-addicted child was:
I really had no control.
I was so mad to hear that Brandon was skipping band, but to find out shortly after that he was skipping entire days of school to get stoned? Oh no, honey, I just couldn’t accept that. So I decided to drive him to school and walk him to his classes one day. I literally walked through the halls with him and delivered him to his classes. His teachers thought it was just awesome, but my kid? He didn’t seem to care. As soon as I left, he was back out smoking weed. I couldn’t keep him in school, so I turned to our doctor to get him some help.
My third realization as a mom with a drug-addicted child:
There isn’t a lot of timely support for drug addicted kids.
Because of Brandon’s unwillingness to pay attention in class and zone out over the years, he was tested for ADHD when he was younger. Twice. He doesn’t have it, much to the dismay of many teachers and a couple of principals. I really felt that he needed help because I just couldn't imagine that anyone would want to choose such a difficult path in life. Looking back, Brandon had such low self-esteem that he was sabotaging himself, in any way he could. Basically, our doctor said that it was a 2-year wait to see a psychiatrist and that if we were really worried to take him to the Emergency Department.
So, Eric and I found a psychologist and paid for Brandon’s weekly sessions with money we didn’t have. Remember, we had 3 other kids at home. We did these weekly sessions for months and – big surprise- Brandon didn’t really open up that much.
My fourth realization as a mom with a drug-addicted kid:
Other children in the family are fundamentally impacted by a drug-addicted kid.
Brandon required so much attention for his bad behaviour that we realized our other kids who were behaving well weren’t getting the time and attention they deserved. I felt like I was a bad mom for having a kid addicted to drugs and then I felt like a bad mom because it took away attention from the other kids.
That’s when I had my fifth realization as a mom with a drug-addicted kid:
The only way to preserve my sanity was to realize it wasn’t about me.
So, this step required a lot of work. It took me until Brandon was about 17 to really be able to step back and disengage myself from his lifestyle. By then he was:
- no longer going to school
- he was on some harder drugs like speed
- he was brought home by the cops in handcuffs for stealing
- he had stolen many, many things from us to support his habits, including his 8-year old sister's iPod.
Seriously, there are so many other blogs that I can write about this experience! But coming to the realization that these were Brandon’s choices and that I couldn’t do anything but watch the consequences unfold was so FREEING. The guilt that I felt for so long that there was something I did or didn’t do/say/provide/teach was so enormous that I’m not even sure how I got here. But, after trying so hard for a few years I just let go and let it be.
But then that brought me to my sixth realization as a mom with a drug-addicted kid:
When you let go of your drug-addicted kid, they leave and you have no idea where they are, what they’re doing or if they’re even alive.
Brandon left to go live with his dad because there were drug dealers showing up at our door looking for him. Our family loved him but we just couldn’t deal with it anymore. I’ll never forget the day after Brandon walked out the front door- I had to go to work in the operating room. We were working on a pretty routine case, but I had to scrub out to have a miniature nervous break-down in the hall. Girl, it was ugly. But I got up and moved on. After awhile, I accepted that Brandon could die from his addiction. That was a very real possibility. But I had to trust that I had done everything I knew how to help him: doctors, therapy, drug counselling, switching schools…I had to know that I did what I could. But that didn't stop me from having nightmares and sleepless nights, waiting for the cops to show up and tell me he was dead.
And then that brought me to my seventh realization as a mom with a drug-addicted kid:
Watching the sweet baby you gave birth to in handcuffs and shackles, standing in front of a judge, knowing that he spent the last few days in prison is a heartbreaking moment for a mama. I hope you never, ever have to experience it.
After about a year Brandon resurfaced. He had done things he’ll probably regret forever, all related to him getting his hands on drugs. He ended up going to jail and you may think that was rock bottom for him, but nah. It went on longer. After we bailed him out of jail, we let him come home with us to clean up. He spent about 2 weeks in our basement just trying to get clean. It was pretty nasty, and our younger kids saw him through the entire ordeal. If they ever do drugs, I’ll be shocked.
Anyhow, after a couple of months Brandon was off on his own again and we had no idea where he was. You see, Brandon was the sweetest of addicts: unwilling to bring any hurt or disappointment to our family, so he just didn’t keep in touch. Man, that was the tough part!
But that brought me to my eighth realization as a mom with a drug-addicted kid:
The hardest part but MOST IMPORTANT part of having a kid addicted to drugs was to keep the lines of communication open, even when you don’t want to.
I was so hurt that my instinct was to just cut Brandon off completely. I was so exhausted from worry that I almost believed that pretending he wasn’t part of my life would make it easier. But Eric was the one who set me straight on that and you know what? He was soooo right. We figured out a way to divest from Brandon’s choices and just be there, so that when he was ready to make different choices he knew he didn’t burn any bridges with us. We always arranged for him to come home for Christmas and other holidays so he could see that the love and support of his family was still there. It wasn’t always easy; believe me. But we always did our best.
That brings me to my ninth realization as a mom with a drug addicted kid:
There is no shame in having a kid with addiction issues.
Can you imagine that I navigated through most of this journey without talking about it? There were a couple of people that knew, but I was too ashamed and embarrassed to open up. I felt as though people would judge me for being a horrible mother who let her kid end up addicted to drugs.
That brings me to my tenth realization as a mom with a drug addicted kid:
I am not my child’s choices.
When I brought my children into the world, I had an expectation of how their lives would unfold. But that’s just a false sense of security because it’s THEIR life to live, not mine. Whether I agree with their choices or not, whether I like the direction they’re heading or not, these are the choices they are making. All I can do is decide how to react.
Today, Brandon is clean and living in his own apartment with a full time job. He rarely asks me for money and when he does, I hesitate to give it to him. I love him and I’m proud of him for overcoming so much, but he made the choices to get where he is today, good and bad. I’m happy to pick up groceries and I pay for his internet so I can keep in touch with him, but giving him cash is just a little too scary for me still.
If you’re a mama with a child going through drug addiction, reach out to the people in your life! There’s no shame in your mother-game if your kid makes bad choices. Hang tough and just know that you haven’t done anything wrong- it’s just your kid’s journey. If you ever want to chat about what a long, tiring and shitty road it is to raise a drug-addicted child, connect with me over at Mamasoup. I completely understand.
Joanne Ilaqua - CEO of MamaSoup
Hey there, I’m Joanne.
I’ve spent about 20 years serving women as a nurse, doula and Lamaze educator. I have 4 kids and I know firsthand how lonely and isolating motherhood can be, so I created MamaSoup. I'm mostly known for my love of red wine, spontaneously singing and my confidence in being my true self on social media. When I’m not busy building women up, you can catch me taking Instagram stories of my bulldog Ruby, watching The Handmaid’s Tale, playing MUber (Mom Uber) to my kids or vacationing in my favourite town: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
I love serving the world by providing a space for moms to connect and support each other. In my opinion, moms are the backbone of communities because they are (literally) raising the future!
As the founder and CEO of MamaSoup, I’ve been featured on CHEX TV Morning Show, KawarthaNOW, Economic Development- The City of Kawartha Lakes and MyKawartha.
Still with me? Join me over at MamaSoup to keep the conversation going!